A Comprehensive Guide to Budget Cyberpunk Gaming – Part 5

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I’ve got a treat for all of you this week. Currently, my list of cyberpunk games for mobile devices has been exhausted, but in my search, I’ve found small pockets of games that can either be played through a web browser or downloaded on PC. And get this–each game is absolutely free. While PC games aren’t always quite as convenient as app games, there aren’t many things sweeter than playing games that kick ass without having to pay a cent for them.


Browser Games

The Last Night

last night promo image

Play for free on itch.io

Of course, I can’t bring up free cyberpunk games without mentioning The Last Night. Created for (and winning) 2014’s Cyberpunk Game Jam in just under a week, Oddtales‘ debut is the definition of linear and takes only two minutes to finish.

But damn, those two minutes feel good. Like Murder from a few weeks backThe Last Night is brimming with cyberpunk tropes, and yet somehow manages to feel like something all its own. The design, naturally, evokes Blade Runner but has a level of Gothic and otherwise sinister elements that seems to be unprecedented. It feels, to me, like something I’ve never seen before, and yet something that I can’t quite put my finger on.

Regardless, if you don’t think you’ll feel the same way I do about the game, I still encourage you to check it out. You won’t regret it–if anything, let it be a sort of primer for the full game that’s coming out next year:

Some of you might recognize the above trailer from this year’s E3 conference, in which case you might also be aware of the controversy surrounding one of the developers’ past political statements on Twitter. I, for one, am willing to give Tim Soret and Oddtales the benefit of the doubt, because this Flashbackinspired cinematic platformer promises to be something the likes of which none of us never quite seen before.

The Last Night – 8/10


Superhot

superhot promo image

Play for free on the Superhot website

Similar to The Last Night’s origins and release strategy, Superhot’s prototype was entered into the 2013 7 Day FPS Challenge and was since expanded into a full game, which was released early last year. While the completed game has more polish and a more fleshed-out story (though it doesn’t particularly need one), the simple fact that the prototype, a fully-3D first-person shooter, can be played through a web browser is pretty damn impressive.

The premise is simple: the player must fight their way through a handful of scenarios befitting an action movie. The main draw of the game is a sort of bullet-time mechanic–time only moves as quickly as the player does, giving them the opportunity to plan their next move. And while the game is slick as hell, you might be wondering where the cyberpunk element comes in. The full game goes into greater detail as to what the prototype merely hints at, but, in a meager attempt to keep myself from spoiling anything, I’ll grant you two words: VR Illuminati.

Superhot – 7/10


Zen and the Art of Transhumanism

zen and the art of transhumanism promo

Get it for free from Deconstructeam

Deconstructeam has been on a bit of a cyberpunk kick lately. You might recognize the Spanish developers’ impeccable Gods Will Be Watchingand as a sophomore effort they’ve been putting together short cyberpunk games for the Ludum Dare game jam that it seems they’ll compile into an interconnected narrative known as The Red Strings Clubwhich is slated to come out early next year.

The first of these short games, Zen and the Art of Transhumanism was created for Ludum Dare 35 and is defined as a “cyberpunk pottery game”. The player controls Akara-184, an android fresh off the assembly line that has been designed to create mods for its clients in order to improve their lives. Once this is done, Akara-184 itself may transcend beyond its own existence and explore the world outside.

Zen is a game that might only take you about a half hour to play through, if that–the gameplay is very straightforward. Each customer will come to you with an existential problem (for example, one customer wants a larger social media base) and you can either give in to their earthly desires (make an implant that will boost their ability to gain subscribers) or provide a solution that will eliminate that desire (an implant that suppresses the desire for social acceptance). There’s an obvious solution to every problem, so it’s not really a puzzle game, but I’ll admit that the creation of each implant is a fairly calming experience. But ultimately, the game’s aesthetics and thematic elements don’t particularly strike me as cyberpunk–instead, it, for whatever reason, makes me think more of 1970s sci-fi. Still, when all’s said and done, the pixel art style is pleasing to look at, and I had a good time tooling around for the game’s short duration.

Zen and the Art of Transhumanism – 5/10


Supercontinent Ltd

supercontinent ltd promo

Get it for free from Deconstructeam

Also drawing on retro aesthetics, Supercontinent Ltd is a short, linear game (1-2 hours) about a hacker known as Brandeis that has infiltrated a corporate executive’s office to find critical information on the titular Supercontinent Corporation’s higher-ups. However, instead of anything he can interface with, Brandeis finds an archaic device known as a “tell-o-phone”, which the heads of the corporation use as a more secure line of communication. What follows is a tangled web of secrets and deception as Brandeis phishes for information from names and numbers he uncovers in this tale of corporate espionage.

Like Gods Will Be WatchingSupercontinent takes the concept of puzzle solving and applies it in an unconventional-but-natural manner to its scenarios. As Brandeis, the player has the ability to mimic the voices of the people he talks to and will find important clues strewn about the office. For instance, one of the game’s subplots involves the kidnapping of a corporate executive’s daughter, which you find out about after dialing a number spray-painted on an office window. After disguising himself as the corporate executive, Brandeis can open a dialogue with the exec’s kidnapper. Once the conversation is over and Brandeis has enough data to impersonate the kidnapper, he can call the executive, posing as the kidnapper, in order to manipulate him into giving up sensitive information. It’s this sort of unique, intuitive puzzle-solving that makes Supercontinent Ltd so engaging.

Supercontinent Ltd – 7/10


Beneath a Steel Sky

beneath a steel sky gog promo

Get it for free on GOG.com

Released in 1994 by Revolution SoftwareBeneath a Steel Sky is a point-and-click adventure that takes place in your typical world-gone-mad scenario. Robert Foster, an orphan raised by a tribe living in a scrap-filled version of the Australian Outback, finds himself abducted and his home destroyed as he is brought to Union City, a massive tangle of industrial towers and piping. In a bit of a subversion of the “ivory tower” trope commonly seen in stories that make commentary on class division, Robert must travel deep into the bowels of the city, which becomes more and more habitable and therefore exclusive to the rich for every level he gains access to. Aided by his trusty robo-companion, Joey, Robert aims to get to the bottom of his kidnapping in this cult classic.

Despite Beneath a Steel Sky’s critical and popular acclaim, I personally wasn’t too crazy about it during my playthrough. I found myself oftentimes referring to guides to help me get through puzzles that required the occasional stretch of logic, as is characteristic of older adventure games. The voice actors in this game, sadly, underperformed, but considering this was made back when PC gaming wasn’t even close to being as huge as it is today, that’s worthy of being overlooked. However, I found the dialogue rather problematic–it didn’t seem like the writers knew what kind of game they wanted it to be. Oftentimes, the player will come up with whimsical banter in one scene juxtaposed with mortifying imagery in another. This may be due to the popularity of lighter p&c games, like LucasArts’ Monkey Island series of the time. That said, BaSS excels at building tension and creating eerie or horrifying moments–at one point, Robert enters a cathedral that is populated by identical-looking men standing stock still. These are inactive androids, so the tension of the scene is mostly drawn from the uncanny nature of the spectacle. But, soon after, Robert finds the body of one of his allies stuffed in a locker, which, to me, was a rather chilling setup.

beneath a steel sky androids

The art style, like the dialogue, feels somehow lacking a strong, clear direction. Of course, Beneath a Steel Sky’s Amiga-level graphics were only capable of rendering so much, and from a technical standpoint, the developers did well with what they had to work with. However, its status as a cyberpunk game has always struck me as rather dubious. Of course, there are fringe cyberpunk media that feature modern science fiction concepts but heavily draw upon the visual styles of previous eras (for example, the short-lived and little-known TV series, Total Recall 2070). However, it may just be me, but if not for the inclusion of cyberspace, I would be more inclined to label it as a purely retrofuturistic game in the vein of 70s sci-fi, such as Logan’s Run or the early days of 2000 AD-perhaps in part due to the opening cutscene featuring art by Dave Gibbons. 

Despite these criticisms, I would encourage you to play it, as long as you’re not uncomfortable with sharing some of your private info; the full game is downloadable for Windows, OSX, and Linux through GOG.com, the catch being that you create an account on the website if you don’t already have one.

Beneath a Steel Sky – 6/10


Deus Ex: Breach

deus ex breach promo

Get it for free on Steam

In their latest attempt to keep everyone from hating them for soullessly capitalizing on a beloved franchise, Square Enix has released Breach, a standalone mod of Mankind Divided, for absolutely free on Windows through Steam. Breach follows… well, “you”, if you were a hacker in 2029 with a neural interfacing device that consolidates corporate servers and their contents into visual and auditory information that somewhat resembles the real world. In simpler terms, this device essentially turns the computers that you hack into virtual reality environments, with firewalls turning into physical barriers and antivirus software manifesting itself as guards and turrets. It’s the dream of cyberspace fully realized. Fear not, you also have your own arsenal, turning attack programs into literalized weapons that you can customize and upgrade once you gain more resources. Under the banner of a hacktivist with the username ShadowChild, you seek to wage war on the corporate scum who have the world in a chokehold.

Breach provides players with a play style hasn’t yet been seen in the context of the Deus Ex franchise; instead of near-seamless, semi-open-world gameplay, it gives the player the opportunity to apply the combat and stealth systems fans know and love to a level-based system with online leaderboards. We’ve covered Breach before in our review of Mankind Dividedand although the gameplay does involve microtransactions and randomized booster packs, it does seem plausible to beat the game without engaging in them or grinding for hours. While the idea of online competition has never particularly appealed to me, Breach certainly takes an interesting concept and runs with it. The voice acting, while unnecessary, is serviceable to the story, as is what little there is to the plot. On occasion, the player will have the opportunity to take up side quests, which I thought was a nice touch. The variation between levels, however, is unfortunately simple, and the game’s skill curve proves difficult to master if you’re a beginner. It would likely be better to play through some of Mankind Divided first in order to get familiar with the control scheme, instead of diving into the game headfirst like I did. The good news is Breach comes free with copies of Mankind Divided across all available platforms, which might be preferable to the alternative anyways–turns out the standalone version of Breach apparently does not work well, and Square Enix seems to have no intent to fix it or port it to non-Windows platforms.

The game’s greatest strength, of course, is the art style. Without betraying Deus Ex’s amalgamation of Renaissance- and Victorian-era garb and sharply geometric abstractionism, Breach renders for the player a gorgeous, purple-gold-and-turquoise virtual underbelly (comparable to Superhot in more than a few ways) that runs parallel to Deus Ex’s main storyline. Whatever the case, if you already have a copy of Mankind Divided or were intent on buying it anyways, Breach is one hell of a perk. Otherwise, you might be better off not bothering.

Deus Ex: Breach – 7/10


You know the drill by now. Stay dry, and let us know if you have a cyberpunk game under $5 that you’d like covered. Be seeing you.

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